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Vol 2 AmazonUK   AmazonUS

Dal Segno

The Great Female Pianists: Volume 1 – Masters of the Piano Roll Series
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Piano Sonata in D K576 13.53]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Andante Favori in F Op.35 [8.37]
Piano Sonata in A flat Op.26 [17.33]
Wanda Landowska (piano) Rolls recorded 1924-28
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)

Sonata in 387 [1.49]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Toccata in G [1.47]
Chorale Prelude for Whitsuntide arranged Busoni [2.03]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Piano Sonata in G Op.79 [7.44]
J BURGMEIN (1840-1912)

Pierrot and Pierette’s Story – with Harold Bauer (piano) [4.48]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

La Cathédrale engloutie [6.52]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Intermezzo in C Op.119/3 [1.39]
Rhapsody in E flat Op.119/4 [5.19]
Myra Hess (piano) Rolls recorded 1924-26
DAL SEGNO DSPRCD 011 [73.11]
The Great Female Pianists Volume 2 – Masters of the Piano Roll Series

Brides and Butterflies Waltzes [5.11]

Murillo Op.138 [6.40]

My Solitudes Op.36/1 [5.12]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)

Tales from the Vienna Woods [7.38]
Johan SVENDSEN (1840-1911)

Romance Op.26 [7.57]
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)

Overture from Orpheus in the Underworld with Robert Armbruster (piano) [9.35]
Genevieve Pitot (piano) Rolls recorded 1925-1929
Cécile CHAMINADE (1857-1944)

American March Op.131 [3.05]
Third Concert Waltz Op.80 [5.33]
Gavotte No.5 Op.162 [3.05]
Elevation Op.76/2 [3.05]
Autumn Leaves Op.146 [3.05]
Fauns Op.60 [3.05]
Guitar Op.32 [3.05]
Autumn Op.35 [3.05]
Cécile Chaminade (piano) Rolls recorded 1921
DAL SEGNO DSPRCD 012 [73.21]
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Readers who have ploughed through my previous reviews of various piano roll discs from Pierian, Tudor and Naxos will know that I tend to start by an explicatory paragraph on the virtues of the Welte-Mignon system. That’s not quite as pertinent here because Pitot, Hess and Chaminade all recorded for Duo-Art. It’s not immediately apparent from the documentation to this disc for which company Landowska recorded, whether Welte, Ampico or even Duo-Art itself. But I’ll include the paragraph here anyway for those who are unfamiliar with the Welte system.

The Welte-Mignon piano used a series of carbon rods attached to each of the keys which lowered into a trough of mercury to complete an electrical circuit when the pianist hit a note. The circuit caused inked rollers to mark a roll of paper with the note itself and also the speed and depth of the attacked note. Playback was possible before the roll was manually perforated for public consumption on a player piano. Theoretically then dynamic shading and pedalling could be registered by the complex system but Welte-Mignon was, irrespective of the secrecies and ambiguities of the system, something of a world leader in the player piano world. Something of their eminence can be gauged by the composers who went to record for them – Mahler, Ravel and Debussy amongst them.

Dal Segno is undertaking an extensive series of piano roll issues based on 1992 transfers. The quartet of performers here share a common sex; Landowska, Hess and Chaminade are all well known from their disc recordings (Chaminade’s are early G&Ts currently on APR), though Landowska’s piano records have always been more elusive than the many she made as a harpsichordist. Genevieve Pitot is little known except to specialists and she was mainly a transcriber whose meteoric early career – she was fifteen when she made the earliest of her rolls here – was not sustained later in life.

It doesn’t take much digging about to point out the manifold limitations of the player piano system. Hess recorded the Scarlatti Sonata in 1940 and we can contrast it with her 1926 roll. On disc she is full of rhythmic nuance, colouristic sheen, teasing accents and deft rubati – playful, affectionate and warm. On the roll, she is dead as a dodo, rhythmically flat, dynamically even, monotonous and mechanical. I would advise you to contrast her commercial recording of the Brahms Intermezzo Op.119/3 (HMV 1941 or the live 1949 University of Illinois performance on APR) with the player piano travesty – which is the nearest you can get to a barrel organ without being arrested.

It’s potentially useful to have items that she didn’t record commercially, not least the Beethoven sonata, or performances with eminent colleagues such as the one here with Harold Bauer (though she did record on disc with Hamilton Harty, her Columbia stable mate – Bauer was contracted to Victor/HMV). But the odds against musical pleasure are too heavy. Similarly with Landowska, who contributes sonatas by Mozart and Beethoven and the latter’s Andante favori. The playing sounds very un-Landowska like in its inert mechanistic insistence and shouldn’t be taken at all as an index of her piano playing – the commercial disc recordings are the ones to have.

In Volume 2 the same strictures apply to the Chaminade rolls. She recorded Fauns in London in 1901 and whilst it’s a very tough listen (find it on APR) we can still appreciate her rubati and the middle voicings she brings out. The 1921 roll by contrast is linear and flat and devoid of rhythmic subtleties of any kind, results clearly due to the medium not to the messenger. But it’s useful to have some examples of the young Pitot’s charming morceaux.

The 1992 recordings were made on a concert grand in an ample acoustic with a touch of ambient noise and what sounds like tape hiss. Proof-reading of the booklets needs to be tightened and we simply have to have the original release numbers. It’s really not good enough to note duration time and the roll date without specifics of that kind. I’d also be interested to know if some of the Hess rolls were issued under the Duo Art name or under Audiograph’s.

Jonathan Woolf


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